Of all life’s griefs, losing a parent is one of the most unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Fatherly reports that, on the contrary, the death of a parent has the power to be transformative for adult children, with both psychological and physical effects.
The death of a parent is traumatic no matter what. People may experience anger, rage, sadness, numbness, anxiety, emptiness or a range of other emotions as a result of the loss.
But not everyone processes grief in the same way. It depends on the circumstances — the cause of death, the bond between parent and child, and the emotional capacity of the surviving child. In some cases, the trauma of the loss can leave a long-lasting psychological scar.
Psychiatrist Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi tells Fatherly,
“In cases where a death is unexpected, such as with an acute illness or traumatic accident, adult children may remain in the denial and anger phases of the loss for extended periods of time.
[This can lead to a] diagnosis of major depressive disorder or even PTSD, if trauma is involved.”
Young adults are more likely to lose their parents suddenly or unexpectedly, which is likely why studies show that young adults are more affected by parental loss than middle-aged adults.
Grief can also spiral into anxiety and depression in cases when a parent dies by suicide, causing feelings of abandonment and guilt.
According to the DSM, healthy grief may evolve into “adjustment disorder” when the bereaved person is unable to carry on with everyday life. Another potential condition called “persistent complex bereavement disorder” is also under study by the DSM.
Grief also has a distinct physical impact on the body. It mobilizes regions of the brain that impact sleep and appetite. Studies also show links between unresolved grief and cardiac events, hypertension, immune disorders and cancer.
So how can one get through this loss in a healthy way? Emotional support is key, and in some cases, professional therapy is the only way out.